When Jerry Lewis died over the weekend, it wasn’t news that was Barstool blog-worthy. Unlike say, when Don Rickles passed a few months ago. Rickles had done the Toy Story movies and Casino. Nobody under the age of 50 remembers the Jerry Lewis Telethon or his early comedies always playing on Sunday morning TV. Lewis was in The King of Comedy, which is maybe the 10th best Scorcese/DeNiro film. So sorry for the loss. But I’ll let the Academy Awards “In Memoriam” segment handle the tribute.
But I’ll also take one potential positive out of it. As a matter of fact, it was my immediate reaction to the news coming across my phone. Does Lewis’ untimely demise mean we’ll finally get to see The Day the Clown Cried? Please, please, please that that be the case.
The Day the Clown Cried is an almost mythical film in that it was so bad it was never released. Shrouded in mystery and legend, very few people have ever seen it. Lewis, who wrote, directed and starred in it, had the master locked in a vault and directed the Library of Congress not to release it until 2025. And it’s my obsession. Something I’ve wanted to see as much as I want anything in this world. My life’s quest. The Holy Grail to my Dr. Henry Jones Sr.
The story takes place in a Nazi concentration camp during the Holocaust. Jerry Lewis plays a clown whose job is to entertain the kids in the camp … as he’s leading them into the gas chambers.
Allow me to repeat. It’s a movie. About a clown. Who makes children laugh to lure them into Nazi gas chambers. I am not making that up. It has an IMDB page. And here’s a production still:
According to legend, the story was meant to be a tragedy, filled with the kind of pathos and despair befitting that whole, you know, Nazi fucking death camp thing. But Lewis rewrote the entire script and went for wacky. For real. In a film about children being lead to the slaughter by the worst people to ever walk the Earth, he played it for yuks.
My obsession with The Day the Clown Cried was triggered by an article I read about it a million years ago. Apparently one of the few people who’s seen it is Harry Shearer from The Simpsons. And he talked about how it manages to achieve perfection in its terribleness. Patton Oswalt has a copy of the script, and he used to put together a group to perform it on stage before Lewis shut him down with a cease and desist order. The specter of TDTCC haunted Lewis throughout his life as he was constantly being asked if it would ever be released and he became fond of screaming “No of your business!” to anyone with the balls to ask. And since I’ve gone a couple of paragraphs without mentioning it, he plays a clown who leads children to the fucking gas chambers.
So again, universe, I beg you. I implore you, with my fist raised to the sky staring at the eclipse with blood in my eyes, please make a positive out of the tragic loss of this great auteur filmmaker and give me The Day the Clown Cried before I die too. I don’t think I’m asking too much.